Shortly after Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial announced the death of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel on Saturday, anti-Israel activists and pundits took to Twitter to attack the legacy of a man celebrated across the world for his steadfast defense of human rights.
A staunch supporter of Israel, during his lifetime Wiesel also spoke out on behalf of the Kurds, Cambodian refugees, Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Argentine Desaparecidos, and Soviet Jews, as well as victims of African famine and genocide, the Syrian civil war, the war in the former Yugoslavia, the Armenian genocide, and apartheid in South Africa, among others.
He received over 100 honorary doctorates and a multitude of accolades during his life, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, Israel’s President’s Medal of Distinction, the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor, and the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Wiesel did not shy away from denouncing what he saw as intransigent and extremist elements within Palestinian leadership and society, writing in 2001: “After seeing on television, during the Intifada, the faces of young Palestinians twisted with hate, it is more difficult than ever before for me to believe in the Palestinians’ will for peace. It is not that they want a smaller Israel; they want no Israel at all.”
He acknowledged the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and emphasized his hope for a just end to the conflict. “I have seen their children in the Gaza refugee camps; their fate can leave none of us indifferent. It is imperative that we resolve this problem,” he observed. But he challenged arguments that the solution to this crisis lay in the immigration of millions of Palestinians to Israel.
“The Palestinians also insist on ‘the right of return’ for more than three million refugees,” he noted. “On this question, Israel is united in its refusal. It may be necessary to recall the history of this Palestinian tragedy. In 1947 Israel accepted the plan for the division of Palestine; the Arabs rejected it. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion reached out to what was to be the Palestinian state. Not only did the Arabs reject the proffered hand; they sent six armies to strangle the newly born Jewish state,” he wrote. “The solution of a mass return is unthinkable. To many Israelis, that would be tantamount to suicide, just as cutting Jerusalem from its roots would be spiritual suicide.”
“And yet,” Wiesel added, “Though all options appear to have been exhausted, peace remains our single common hope; violence and war have filled too many cemeteries on both sides. This cannot and must not go on. Most Israelis feel is I do: Palestinians must have the right to live freely and with dignity, without fear and without shame. It is incumbent upon the world and Israel to do everything to help them and to do so in ways that do not make them lose face. I am particularly concerned with the Israeli Arabs. They are citizens of Israel, and their civic rights must be protected at all costs.”
Wiesel repeated his hopes in a 2014 print advertisement denouncing Hamas for using children as human shields and called on the terror organization to stop the practice. “Palestinian parents want a hopeful future for their children, just like Israeli parents do. And both should be joining together in peace.”
Ali Abunimah — founder of the anti-Israel blog Electronic Intifada – claimed Wiesel demonized Palestinian children in the ad.
Those who praise Elie Wiesel without mentioning his deep ethnic hatred for Palestinians are as hypocritical and vacuous as he was.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) July 3, 2016
Abunimah also claimed Israel was carrying out a “slow motion genocide” in Gaza — whose population increased by 2.9% between 2014 and 2015, and over 400% since 1967, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — which Wiesel “loudly supported.”
While Israel carried out slow motion genocide in Gaza, Elie Wiesel didn't maintain his famous "silence." He loudly supported it.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) July 3, 2016
AlterNet senior writer Max Blumenthal charged that Wiesel “did more harm than good” and falsely claimed that he denied the Armenian genocide and opposed memorializing gay and Roma victims of the Holocaust.
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) July 2, 2016
Elie Wiesel went from a victim of war crimes to a supporter of those who commit them. He did more harm than good and should not be honored.
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) July 2, 2016
Blumenthal’s allegations are easily undermined by Wiesel’s vocal advocacy on behalf of victims of the Armenian genocide, the denial of which Wiesel repeatedly called a “double killing.”
In 2007, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity published a letter condemning Armenian genocide denial, which was signed by Wiesel and 52 other Nobel laureates:
Turks and Armenians have a huge gap in perceptions over the Armenian Genocide. To address this gap, we refer to the 2003 “Legal Analysis on the Applicability of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to Events which Occurred During the Early Twentieth Century,” which corroborated findings of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
It concluded that, “At least some of the [Ottoman] perpetrators knew that the consequences of their actions would be the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, as such, or acted purposefully towards this goal and, therefore, possessed the requisite genocidal intent. The Events can thus be said to include all the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention.” It also concluded that, “The Genocide Convention contains no provision mandating its retroactive application.”
“I have been fighting for the right of the Armenian people to remember for years and years,” Wiesel said in a 2008 interview that touched on a debate in Congress about U.S. recognition of the genocide, which Turkey stridently opposed. “How could I, who has fought all my life for Jewish remembrance, tell the Armenians they have no right to remember? But I understand the administration’s view. Fortunately, as a private citizen I don’t have to worry about Turkey’s response. But I do feel that had there been the word ‘genocide’ in those days, what happened to the Armenians would have been called genocide. Everyone agrees there was mass murder, but the word came later. I believe the Armenians are the victims and, as a Jew, I should be on their side.”
Wiesel also did not oppose the commemoration of Roma or LGBT victims of the Holocaust.
In 1979, after he was appointed to chair the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, Wiesel wrote in his report to the president:
The Universal and the Particular: The Jews were Hitler’s primary victims against whom the total fury of the Holocaust was unleashed: to dilute or deny this reality would be to falsify it in the name of misguided universalism. Since Jews were not the only people to suffer and since others perished for their convictions or affiliations, for their nationality or race in the machinery of death initially designed for the destruction of Jews, the Commission recommends that the museum incorporate displays on the Poles, the Gypsies, and other exterminated groups.
He further emphasized towards the end of his report:
In addition to the Jewish people who were engulfed by the Holocaust simply because they were Jews, 5 million other human beings were destroyed. About 3 million Poles, many Hungarians, Gypsies, also need to be remembered. To memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, we must harness the outrage of our own memories to stamp out oppression wherever it exists. We must understand that human rights and human dignity are indivisible. Wherever our fellow human beings are stripped of their humanity, defiled or tortured or victimized by repres sion or terrorism or racism or prejudice, then all of us are victims. As Americans, we must, and we also will speak out in defense of human rights at home and everywhere in the world.
Abbas Hamideh, who co-founded al-Awda, a group that aims to facilitate the immigration of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli Independence War and their descendants to Israel, also denounced Wiesel:
Elie Wiesel was a fraud who lied about his experiences & supported ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people in the process. Nothing honorable.
— Abbas Hamideh (@Resistance48) July 3, 2016
Al-Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan similarly seemed to argue that Weisel sought to undermine Palestinian human rights:
Well, apart from the human rights of Palestinians, I guess. https://t.co/rKrw4IDPZ8
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) July 2, 2016
Iranian-American author and professor Reza Aslan also took the opportunity to denounce Weisel as a liar:
He lied https://t.co/ZwYg1Y2D0e
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) July 3, 2016
Xavier Abu Eid, the communications adviser for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, seemed to echo these sentiments:
Eli Wiesel supported human rights for everyone but for Palestinians, where he advocated for most Israeli policies against our people.
— Xavier Abu Eid (@xabueid) July 3, 2016
Rania Khalek, a writer for Electronic Intifada, also voiced her opposition to the outpouring of appreciation for Wiesel and his legacy:
He supported ethnic cleansing and wholesale slaughter of Palestinians. These tributes are shameful. https://t.co/ALdoOS0D52
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) July 2, 2016
Richard Silverstein, founder of the blog Tikun Olam, claimed that Wiesel became “a parody” and “a figure of pity” through his association with pro-Israel groups, which marked a “slow, sad decline into irrelevance.”
He also alleged that Wiesel was an “Iranophobe” and “Islamophobe racist.”
Elie Wiesel is dead, Holocaust survivor, moral witness, Palestine denier, Islamophobe racist. A decidedly mixed legacy.
— Tikun Olam (@richards1052) July 2, 2016
Notably, Wiesel’s death was met with a flood of tributes from public figures and human rights activists worldwide.
The State of Israel and the Jewish people mourn the passing of Elie Wiesel. pic.twitter.com/EZLjwgVEcv
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) July 2, 2016
Elie Wiesel was a great moral voice of our time and a conscience for our world. He was also a dear friend. We will miss him deeply.
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 2, 2016
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 3, 2016
So saddened by Elie Wiesel's death. By bearing witness, he revealed evil many avoided facing. By never giving up, he made this world better.
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) July 2, 2016
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) July 3, 2016
Elie Wiesel spent his life in service to humanity, keeping the memory of the Holocaust's horror alive. It is for us all to carry this torch.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 2, 2016
Thank you Elie Wiesel. The world is profoundly better because you were here.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) July 2, 2016
Deeply saddened by the passing of Elie Wiesel, who remained optimistic in the darkest days and pushed us to see beauty in humanity.
— Melinda Gates (@melindagates) July 2, 2016
Elie Wiesel's "Night" is one of the most important things I've ever read. That book illuminated how writing could be used to bear witness.
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) July 2, 2016
The great Elie Wiesel, survivor of the Holocaust, has left us at the age of 87. I have tears in my eyes… https://t.co/Rqdxtpj5hZ
— Anne Rice (@AnneRiceAuthor) July 2, 2016
Elie Wiesel's "Night" gave me vocabulary for resistance. Mtg him taught me we need daily reaffirmation. Never forget pic.twitter.com/xcy6w95gXH
— Ambassador Gaspard (@patrickgaspard) July 2, 2016
Peace "is our gift to each other." — Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)
— Peace Corps (@PeaceCorps) July 2, 2016
[Photo: Veni / Flickr ]